Pakistan’s cricket chiefs face a battle to address the reasons behind their disastrous tour to Bangladesh as they gear up for their first home series against Test opposition in six years.
Pakistan slumped to ninth in the ICC one-day international table — their lowest since rankings were introduced in 2002 — after losing the ODI series to minnows Bangladesh 3-0, threatening their participation in the 2017 Champions Trophy in England where only top eight teams will feature.
The tourists also suffered their first ever Twenty20 defeat against Bangladesh. Although they managed to win the two-Test series 1-0 with victory in the second Test last week, the national pastime of inquisition and blame game is back in full flow.
Legendary paceman and 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan termed the Bangladesh one-day series defeat as “unimaginable” while former captain Ramiz Raja described it as “the lowest point in country’s cricket history”.
As a bewildering number of former players and captains line up to have their say, those who currently govern the game are pointing their fingers towards the system over which they preside.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shaharyar Khan promised a “serious review” and labelled the first-class system as “completely flawed” and fitness of the players as “worst in the world.”
A procession of players withdrew with injuries from the Bangladesh tour, highlighting the lack of a fitness regime and the mistakes made in allowing players to come back to the rigours of international cricket without proper match practice.
The post-mortem comes as Pakistan prepare to face Zimbabwe in a mini-series of Twenty20s and three one-day internationals — the formats where the team has fared worst of late — with the African side keen to upset the hosts.
No Test-playing team has toured Pakistan since militants attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009, leaving eight people dead and seven visiting players injured.
– Flawed system –
Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who retired from one-day cricket after World Cup in March, called for a united effort to arrest the decline.
For decades Imran has blamed a flawed first-class system as being detrimental to the national side, but analysts counter that it produced players in the past of the calibre of Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
That argument doesn’t wash with former Test captain Inzamam. “Look, with the passage of time our first-class system didn’t get better,” he told AFP. “The lack of ‘A’ team tours hurt us badly, because that is the stage where we can mature our fringe players.”
The absence of any international cricket on Pakistan soil since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009 has also been detrimental.
PCB officials say countries refuse even to send ‘A’ teams because of security fears. Such tours are normally arranged on a reciprocal basis meaning no Pakistan ‘A’ team has played outside the nation’s adopted ‘home’ grounds in the United Arab Emirates for five years.
– More tours needed –
Fast bowler Wahab Riaz and batsman Umar Akmal rose to senior level after the last Pakistan ‘A’ tour to Australia in 2009 and Inzamam said until fringe players tour abroad they cannot make the step up to Test and ODI level.
“We need to send our players to countries like England, Australia and South Africa. If we don’t then we will not be able to groom them for higher levels,” said Inzamam.
Other critics are demanding changes in the coaching staff, with head coach Waqar Younis, under whom Pakistan have lost five one-day series since he took over in June last year, the prime target.
“I think it is best if Waqar steps down himself after the appalling performance in the one-day series,” said former captain Rashid Latif.
“Bangladesh have improved their cricket but still to lose in such a manner to them is not tolerable and for this the management is responsible,” said Latif.
Zimbabwe’s tour, which takes place from May 22 to May 31 is expected to be a tough contest, particularly after the retirement of key all-rounder Shahid Afridi and the loss of Misbah from one-day international duty.
But Pakistan can also take heart by the way their bowlers — especially pacemen Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan and Yasir Shah dismantled Bangladesh’s batting in the final test.